What's the (bleep)ing problem with caring about Pa.'s environment?
John Quigley gets ousted from the state's top environmental post over a harsh email. Why is that a bigger scandal than the way Pennsylvania treats its environment?
We always say that we want elected officials who care. Unless they actually do. That really freaks us out.
Consider the case of one John Quigley, who until last week was head of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and who seems to be 10X more famous now, for the way that he left office, than he ever was during his relatively brief tenure.
Quigley was ousted by the Beleaguered Wolf Administration (yes, that's its official title now) when an email that Quigley had written to the state's leading environmental groups that he presumably hoped wouldn't become public (it was from his private account) became public. In the electronic missive, John. Q. urged a much more public campaign to rally lawmakers against efforts to thwart stronger regulations on drilling for oil and natural gas in the Keystone State.
"Where the f- were you people yesterday?" Quigley wrote to environmental groups last month. "The House and Senate hold Russian show trials on vital environmental issues and there's no pushback at all from the environmental community? Nobody bothering to insert themselves in the news cycle?"
Turns out it was Quigley inserting himself in the news cycle. When a Democratic lawmaker who was, subsequently, pushed back by the environmentalists complained his treatment, and when the email became public, Quigley was out of a job.
Politically, the email was kind of a dumb thing to write (and certainly to burn into the forever molecules of cyberspace). It's hardly shocking that a former environmentalist trying to push pro-environment legislation for a pro-environment governor would try to exploit his connections on behalf of said legislation. But Quigley's tone was so extreme to raise questions whether he can be an honest broker in the job. Even so, the Wolf administration -- elected because its leader wasn't a traditional politician -- looks somewhat amateurish in the way it forced him out. It's almost as if they weren't professional politicians.
So, yeah, Quigley's email didn't look great, but it also really bothers me that this is what's considered an environmental scandal in Pennsylvania. What's really scandalous is that the state did such a sub-par job regulating the industry during the height of the Marcellus Shale boom. And now the sacrifice of Quigley is obscuring the fact that a band of lawmakers in Big Oil's back pocket wants to block new regulations that would bring Pennsylvania into the 21st Century of environmental projection.
Some of the common sense measures that lawmakers -- mainly Republicans, but a handful of Democrats - are trying to block include rules that would require oil and gas companies to restore the streams they've polluted, to stop dumping wastes from the drilling process into temporary pits, and to take containment measures aimed at preventing leaks. Dropping a f-bomb in an email may be front-page news in Pennsylvania, but lawmakers protecting the polluters who fund their campaigns isn't news at all. It's business as usual.
The lawmakers also want to prevent Pennsylvania's Clean Power Plan that would cut greenhouse-gas pollution from coal-fired power plants. You know, the pollutants that are behind the global warming that is already setting temperature records month after month after month. It you ask me, the short-sighted politics of greed dooming the planet for our grandchildren is...a scandal. But what do I know?
You'd think it would be a scandal when a state lawmaker gets an all-expenses paid trip from a leading natural gas company to see his beloved Steelers play in the Super Bowl (on top of $500,000 in campaign contributions from Big Oil and Gas over seven short years). But state senate president pro tem Joe Scarnati had his campaign pay that money back, so that did a lot less damage than a lousy email. Quigley may be gone, but Scarnati is still in Harrisburg doing his damnedest to make sure Pennsylvania remains the only major drilling state without a severance tax.
And maybe the reason that Quigley got worked up into a Category F-bomb state of rage is because the more that humankind learns about fracking, the more we realize how destructive this process -- just about the only economic development "idea" that Pennsylvania has had for the last decade -- has really been. The fracking process has wasted billions and billions of gallons of precious water, spewed methane leaks into the air, caused earthquakes across the Southwest, and been linked to water pollution here in Pennsylvania.
John Quigley comes off as high-strung guy, but can we really blame him for getting worked up about how badly Pennsylvania treats its environment? At least he (bleep)ing cared. And the question still hangs in our methane-soaked haze: When are we ever going to care about the real scandal? Maybe Mother Nature needs to send us a harsh email.